Despite frigid temperatures and snowy ground, Divest Dal held a campout on Dalhousie University’s Studley quad Feb. 15 to protest Dalhousie’s board of governors meeting, which took place that day.
Divest Dal’s goal is to convince Dalhousie’s board of governors (BoG) to commit to divesting — meaning remove its investment — from fossil fuel companies that contribute to the climate crisis.
Divest Dal’s goals
Prior to the pandemic, BoG members would have passed the campout on their way to the meeting on campus. The meetings are currently happening on Microsoft Teams.
Dalhousie’s 2021 endowment investments saw a return of $2.5 million, according to a budget discussion the BoG had on Feb. 15. These investments include shares in fossil fuel companies like Suncor, Husky Energy, TC Energy, Parkland Fuel, Canadian Natural Resources and Cenovus Energy.
Though this year’s BoG meeting was online, Divest Dal also wanted to use the opportunity to re-establish its presence on campus and bring attention to their cause.
“Divest Dal has been doing this for almost ten years, the group started in 2013. It’s been on the back burner for the last little bit,” said Jude Sampson, a campaigner with Divest Dal. “But we wanted to get it going strong again in time for the BoG meeting.”
Madeleine Stinson, the Dalhousie Student Union president, shared this new generation of Divest Dal’s call for divestment in her president’s report at the last BoG meeting on Nov. 23. “[Divestment] obviously hasn’t happened, but we got a lot of positive attention from students and even some faculty during the campout,” said Sampson.
Originally, Divest Dal was planning on camping out overnight from Feb. 14 to 15, but with the campus closed due to weather on the 14th, the group opted for a day campout the day of the meeting.
Rosie Bleyer, another campaigner with Divest Dal, said one of their tactics was sending board members a large number of emails in support of divestment during the meeting.
“We did an email blitz, we wanted to spam the board members without it being actual spam. We wanted them to see all the messages from students about the hypocrisy surrounding Dal’s investments in oil companies,” said Bleyer.
Divest Dal used an automated email generator to continuously send emails to the board members during the meeting. Each email had a different subject line and slightly different content so they didn’t get flagged as spam.
They contained messages like, “I am emailing you today, demanding immediate divestment from fossil fuels in Dalhousie’s investment portfolio.” Some of the email templates named specific companies, like Enbridge, and said these companies “continue to destroy the planet.”
Both Bleyer and Sampson say no one got any email responses from board members.
The Board of Governors
Dalhousie Student Union President Madeleine Stinson brought up divestment during her presentation at the meeting, she asked if members plan on getting back to Divest Dal.
Chair of the executive committee Robert Hanf, who used to serve as an executive leader of Emera power, didn’t give the subject much time. “It’s not on the agenda today, it would be my preference if we stick the agenda,” Hanf said at the meeting.
“It’s more than a bit infuriating when there are students standing outside in -15-degree weather all-day, missing their classes and spending hours and hours trying to get their attention, to just shrug us off. Especially as young people who have to live on this planet for, hopefully, a while longer,” said Sampson.
“It’s so confusing, just morally confusing, that Dalhousie has a sustainability program and yet profits off the climate crisis. It’s hypocritical and wrong,” said Sampson.
Divest Dal doesn’t have any specific plans for the future, though they hope to get more demonstrations organized by the next BoG meeting on March 29.
“Now that we’ve done our day out on the quad, we’re going to step back and really trying to figure out how we can go forward in a big way,” said Bleyer.
Despite a lack of engagement from administration, Bleyer feels optimistic about the possibility of divestment, “other huge schools have committed to divestment, U-Ottawa recently announced they’d divest, Harvard earlier last year, UBC not too long ago. It’s only a matter of time before Dal gets on the right side of history here. But we have to keep working and pushing.”